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How to Handle Common Dental Emergencies

While injuries to the mouth may not be life threatening, they can warrant a visit to the emergency department.2 The American College of Emergency Physicians offers the following advice on how to care for dental emergencies ranging from a broken jaw to a toothache.2

A Toothache
Rinse your mouth with warm water and gently use dental floss or an interdental cleaner to make sure there is no food or other debris caught between your teeth.2 Never put aspirin against the gums near the aching tooth because it may burn the gum tissue.2 Call your dentist if the pain persists.2

A Bitten Lip or Tongue
Clean the area gently with a cloth.2 Apply pressure and cold compresses to stop the bleeding and reduce swelling.1,2 If bleeding doesn't stop after 15 minutes, go to a hospital emergency room immediately.1,2

Objects Caught Between Teeth
Gently try to move the object with dental floss, but avoid cutting your gums.2 Never use a sharp object to dislodge something stuck between your teeth.2 If dental floss doesn't work, contact your dentist.2

Chipped or Broken Teeth
Rinse your mouth with warm water, use cold compresses to reduce swelling, and call your dentist immediately.1,2 Pain is a sign that you have broken through the enamel layer to the dentin, which is sensitive because it contains nerve endings, or even deeper into the pulp, which is pink and may bleed a bit.3 Pain can also warn that the tooth is fractured, sometimes below the gum line where you cannot see the break.3

A Possible Broken Jaw
If you have a broken jaw, you will usually feel pain in the face or jaw and have swelling and bruising.4 You may not be able to close your jaw or get your upper and lower teeth to align properly.4

To control swelling, apply a cold compress.2 Stabilize the jaw using a bandage wrapped beneath the jaw and tied on top of the head.4

A broken or dislocated jaw may cause breathing problems or significant bleeding. Go to your dentist or a hospital emergency department immediately.4


1 "Dental Emergencies." American College of Emergency Physicians. Accessed 2009.

2 "Dental Emergencies & Injuries." American Dental Association.? 2009.

3 "For the Dental Patient: Do You Have a Cracked Tooth?" American Dental Association, April 2003. Accessed 2009.

4 "Jaw-Broken or Dislocated." U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Accessed 2009.


Author: Bruce Beans
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